Detroit police changing facial-recognition policy after pregnant woman says she was wrongly charged

Porcha Woodruff poses on Monday, Aug. 7, 2023, in Oak Park, Mich. Woodruff who was falsely arrested when she was eight months pregnant and accused of a carjacking is suing the City of Detroit and one of its police officers due to what she says is an over reliance on facial recognition technology. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) (Carlos Osorio, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

DETROIT – The Detroit police chief said he's setting new policies on the use of facial-recognition technology after a woman who was eight months pregnant said she was wrongly charged with robbery and carjacking in a case that was ultimately dismissed by prosecutors.

The technology, which was used on images taken from gas station video, produced leads in the case but was followed by “very poor” police work, Chief James White said.

Recommended Videos

“We want to ensure that nothing like this happens again," White said Wednesday.

His comments came two days after the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan urged Detroit police to stop using the technology. The city was sued last week by Porcha Woodruff, a 32-year-old Black woman, who was arrested in February while trying to get children ready for school. There have been two similar lawsuits against Detroit.

Woodruff was identified as a suspect in a January robbery and carjacking through facial-recognition technology. She denied any role. The Wayne County prosecutor's office said charges later were dropped because the victim did not appear in court.

White said his officers will not be allowed "to use facial-recognition-derived images in a photographic lineup. Period.”

He said two captains must review arrest warrants when facial technology is used in a case, among other changes. The new policies will be presented to the Detroit Police Board of Commissioners.

White said there must be other evidence, outside the technology, for police to believe a suspect had the "means, ability and opportunity to commit the crime.”

Critics say the technology results in a higher rate of misidentification of people of color. Woodruff’s lawsuit says facial recognition identified her, although the victim had never described the carjacker as visibly pregnant.

She spent hours in jail following her arrest.

“It’s particularly difficult when you’re talking about someone who was eight months pregnant, so we empathize with that,” White said. "We recognize we have to do better and there will be accountability on this mistake.”

Recommended Videos